Teddy's Hat

Watching My Words

Teddy's Hat

Teddy and the hat he tends to like most.

The daughter has always had a tendency to pick up my fallback phrases. When she was two, she began every sentence with “Hey” – something I’d never realised I did until she started repeating it back to me. She also says “Brilliant” a lot, which I suspect is my fault. Although I’m pretty sure I don’t pronounce it “Bwilliyant.”

Right now, her favourite phrases seem to be ‘tends to’ – as in “My Teddy tends to like hats, Mummy” – and ‘it’s a thing’ – as in “I’m not keen on cabbage. It’s a thing.” (Now that I think about it, the use of ‘keen on’ is probably my fault, too. It’s a thing.)

I should be grateful, I suppose, that the phrases she picks up are at least suitable for polite society, although it does get us some funny looks in the supermarket.

Basically, all this means that I now have another arena in which I have to watch my words.

When I first started writing, I soon learned that adverbs were deemed okay in moderation but deathly in excess, so I began editing them out as far as possible. (Aside: that sentence had two more adverbs in it originally… It’s a sickness. Or a thing.) I learned to curb my description and my tendency to let characters waffle on (well, a bit, anyway) and started to get better feedback on my work.

But that was only the beginning.

More important, in lots of ways, than how I describe my characters and their actions and surroundings, is what those characters say to each other. Not just in an obvious, saying what they mean or not, trading secrets or lies, way. But in the words they choose and the phrases they use. Language, and its usage, can be a sign of community, if I use it right. People who spend a lot of time together start to pick up each other’s phrases, just like the daughter does. And if my uptight hero is using my free spirited heroine’s colloquialisms by the end of the book, then the reader knows he’s part of her world now.

So, picking up language – good for books, mostly just amusing in the daughter. Now, what words can I teach her next? And where did Teddy’s hat go…?